The COP26 talks taking place in Glasgow have now finally concluded. IEMA’s Head of Policy, Ben Goodwin, discusses the outcomes and next steps.

The initial aims of the negotiations were to secure agreements and commitments between participating nations that would ensure that global warming does not significantly exceed 1.5°C. The scientific premise being that doing so would limit the most significant effects of climate change for all inhabitants on earth.

To achieve this outcome, IEMA set out a number of principles prior to world leaders and negotiators meeting in Glasgow, that we felt should help guide the spirit of the discussions that took place.

These included:

  • Climate leadership at all levels
  • Recognition of the importance of reporting and disclosure with increasing transparency on climate change performance
  • The importance of integrating and embedding of climate change as a mainstream ‘business’ issue
  • Policy frameworks and strategic approaches that support certainty and give confidence for organisations to invest and transition

You can read our pre-COP26 explainer here.

What was actually agreed at COP26?

Some of what was agreed at the negotiations does clearly reflect these guiding principles and quite clearly, we welcome this.

The headline takeaway is that countries have agreed to bring forward more ambitious emissions reduction pledges to 2022 and that more advanced economies will do more to support those countries that are less well off. Coupled with this is a high-level commitment in the negotiated text that all countries will begin to ‘phase down’ the use of coal.

100 world leaders (including Brazil) also reached agreement on ending and ultimately reversing deforestation by 2030, which will have a significantly positive impact on carbon sequestration if the target is achieved.

Likewise, another 40 nations, including the likes of Poland and Chile, agreed more explicitly to move away from burning coal, with a further 100 making a commitment to cut current methane emissions by 2030.

There were other agreements by private institutions, including banks and pension funds, worth up to $130 trillion to invest in clean technologies to enable progress on new shared net zero targets to be achieved.

But like all those targets that have come before, the challenge is in implementation.

We now need to see, urgently, credible plans and strategies for delivery.

This also applies to commitments that the USA and China have made to strengthen collaboration on climate change mitigation – what does this actually mean in practice?

Where were the shortcomings of the negotiations?

The targets agreed don’t mask the fact that in certain areas progress wasn’t made at COP26 and that unless this is corrected the 1.5 global warming target will remain an illusion.

A key failure was that the world’s largest users of coal, namely the USA and China, did not sign-up to the more ambitious pact to phase out its use, which somewhat dampens the agreement that they have separately made to work more effectively together on the climate agenda.

Similarly, China, Russia and India are not part of the cohort of countries that have agreed to act on cutting methane emissions, so missed opportunities here for both reducing coal and methane use from the big emitting countries.

Next steps for international action on climate change

However, it is important that we keep the faith in the COP process and the institutions that enable it. It is also critical that those nations that have demonstrated ambition at this latest round of negotiations continue to set an example for those who have not.

This was the sentiment of IEMA CEO, Sarah Mukherjee, who said following the conclusion of COP26:

“There is an onus on those countries that have locked in ambitious emissions targets to continue to persuade those that have not done so to do likewise and therefore demonstrate real climate leadership, alongside a willingness to collaborate on solving this greatest of challenges.

We must also continue to equip more people and organisations internationally with the right green skills to guide and lead real change for a sustainable future.”

Photo of Ben goodwin
Ben Goodwin

Head of Policy, IEMA

Ben joined IEMA towards the end of 2020 to take up the role of Head of Policy. In this capacity he looks after the delivery of IEMAs core policy and practice outputs across a range of environmental and sustainability issues.